Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 October 2009
When India attained independence in 1947, it was already in many respects a clientelistic polity. The British had strengthened their own colonial rule by providing land and other goods to important social groups and their leaders, and they also institutionalized ascriptive criteria such as caste and religion as authoritative ways for the state to allocate jobs, positions in state-funded educational establishments, and seats in parliamentary and provincial assemblies (Wilkinson 2004). The Congress Party, far from being an “external party” of the type characterized by Martin Shefter – one bent on cleaning up the mill of patronage – had itself been transformed by more than twenty years in control of the various provincial and local assemblies set up by the British after 1919 to quiet demands for independence. Congress's control of these assemblies, characterized by one historian as “enormous pools of patronage” (Washbrook 1973), meant that the party acted more like one of Shefter's internally mobilized parties – using the state administration and state patronage to build support and reward allies – than an external programmatic party. In Calcutta, the Congress used its control of the municipal corporation after 1923 to strengthen its position, so that by independence perhaps 70 percent of the corporation's staff were party workers or their family members (Weiner 1967: 328).The considerable spending power the local and provincial assemblies eventually controlled, combined with the prospect of even greater power when the British left, also attracted many members to Congress in the decade before independence whose primary concern was less ideological than material.